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Clippings: Should the Clippers extend Luke Kennard now?

The fourth-year guard is eligible for a rookie extension.

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Washington Wizards v Detroit Pistons Photo by Brian Sevald/NBAE via Getty Images

The Clippers could have two pretty high-profile unrestricted free agents next offseason, should Kawhi Leonard and Paul George opt out of the final year of their contracts. They could also have an interesting restricted free agent in Luke Kennard.

Kennard is entering the final year of his rookie contract, but he is also eligible for an extension right now. The Clippers likely won’t have cap space even if they don’t extend Kennard (unless there is a doomsday scenario of Leonard and George leaving), so there isn’t a high opportunity cost. At this point, it’s just a matter of whether their evaluation of Kennard matches up with his own.

There are two major problems with extending Kennard before the start of the season. One is that the Clippers have no idea what he looks like in their system since he has yet to play for them. The other is that he has an injury history that limited him to playing in just over 70 percent of Detroit’s games, including 28 out of 66 last year. Both of those factors make a long-term commitment a tricky proposition.

However, this also might be the best time to make a deal with Kennard. His value is probably at its lowest after missing most of last year. After spending one season on a contending team and showing out as a player who contributes to winning, Kennard could demand more money.

Thus far, all of the extensions for players in the 2017 draft class have been max contracts: Jayson Tatum, De’Aaron Fox, Donovan Mitchell, and Bam Adebayo. Kennard clearly isn’t on that level, so let’s see how his 2016 counterparts fared (c/o Hoops Rumors):

  • Buddy Hield (Kings): Four years, $86 million, with $20 million in additional incentives.
  • Dejounte Murray (Spurs): Four years, $64 million, with $6 million in additional incentives.
  • Caris LeVert (Nets): Three years, $52.5 million

Despite his shooting reaching Hield levels, Kennard probably lands in the Murray/LeVert range, especially since he won’t be negotiating with Vlade Divac. Both Murray and LeVert showed some promise as starting guards, but also had injuries that cost them big chunks of their first three seasons. It’s worth noting that these contracts were agreed to in a different cap environment before the league revenue took a hit, but they’re useful comparisons.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Brooklyn Nets
Luke Kennard’s agent should be using Dejounte Murray and Caris LeVert as comps for his client’s extension.
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

If the Clippers can get Kennard in the four-year, $52 million range, that seems like a team-friendly deal. It’s a significant haircut from Murray and LeVert, but Kennard also doesn’t project to be a starter in L.A. The Clippers could also add incentives based on games played to account for his health or even assist totals considering the team’s playmaking deficit. However, it’s hard to see the front office committing to the average annual value of those other two deals.

Kennard’s situation somewhat resembles that of Brandon Ingram, his college teammate. Ingram was traded after his third year and had a health scare; that and his so-so production with the Lakers prevented the Pelicans from giving him a long-term deal. Ingram subsequently blew up in New Orleans, made the All-Star team, and now has a max contract. The Clippers shouldn’t be afraid of Kennard excelling to the same extent — he doesn’t have the physical attributes to be a star like Ingram — but they still should capitalize on the opportunity to negotiate a deal before he makes a leap.

The Clippers clearly think Kennard has potential. They wouldn’t have traded Landry Shamet for him if they didn’t. This is their chance to lock in that potential for the future at a discount. If they wait any longer, they’ll have to pay for Kennard’s actual production, and if their evaluation of him was correct, that will be pricey.

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